Exercise With Your Cycle
You might recall that last week I was on vacation, trying to survive the heat. I’m on week 2 of my annual beach vacation this week, the heat has broken, and while the weather is still on the hot side, it’s nothing like last week, when it was too hot to even sit on the beach!
It’s so much more pleasant this week, weather-wise, and I’m enjoying being outdoors and even getting some exercise.
If you’ve been with me for a little while now, you probably know that my whole life, until my late 20s, I was never a huge fan of exercise. I dreaded gym class in school, avoided team sports like the plague, and eschewed outdoor physical activity, much preferring to get lost in a good book.
In my late 20s I discovered running and yoga, which transformed my feelings about exercise and turned me into a faithful exerciser. These days, I’m doing more walking than running, and I try to get my daily walks and yoga practice in to not only move my body, but also feed my soul. Some days I’m better than others. I have to be honest!
When I was trying to conceive, moving my body was a big part of my plan to get pregnant. That was around the time that I stopped doing long distance running. Much as I loved it, it was hard on my body and I was often sidelined due to injury. Quite simply, I learned that humans are NOT designed to run marathons. Much as I loved the whole experience of training for and running marathon races, I intuitively knew that more moderate forms of exercise would better complement my efforts to conceive. I started doing more walking and focused more on my yoga practice than on high-intensity cardio exercise.
This has been corroborated by research. Studies have consistently shown that for normal-weight women, excessive exercise – and high-intensity efforts like marathon training fall into this category – can wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle, which affects ovulation. Problems with ovulation are the leading cause of female infertility.
Not only can vigorous exercise affect ovulation, it can also affect implantation, when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining in your uterus. So the long and the short of it is, in the case of exercise and trying to conceive, less is more.
It’s also interesting to consider that different types of exercise may work better at different times of your cycle. Here are some basic guidelines:
Menstruation (Approx. Days 1-5 of your cycle): This might be the one time of the month where you can get a pass from exercising if you want! This time of your cycle can be very draining for you, and it’s best to give your body a rest. Even if you don’t have difficult or painful periods, it’s best to be gentle with yourself during this time. Examples: walking, restorative yoga
Follicular Phase (after bleeding until ovulation): During this time, you may feel lighter and more energetic. Your ovaries are working now, growing your follicles in hopes of releasing one (or more) at ovulation. This phase of your cycle is dominated be estrogen, and exercise will help keep your estrogen levels where they should be. Therefore, this is a great time to expend energy. Examples: biking, group fitness classes.
Ovulation (your most fertile time of the month, about the mid-point of your cycle for most women): During this time, stay the course with the exercise you were doing during the follicular phase.
Luteal Phase (the time from ovulation until the first day of bleeding in the next cycle): This is also an energetic time and exercise is a great way to release that excess energy! If you’re like me, and sometimes get sore breasts or bloating during this time, it’s not a great idea to do super high-intensity exercise during this phase, but you don’t have to be as gentle as during menstruation. The luteal phase is dominated by the hormone progesterone, which generates heat in your body. Stationary exercise and weight-bearing exercise is a great during this phase. Examples: weight lifting, power yoga.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 3 times a week, if you’re of a normal weight.
As always, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor to develop the right exercise plan for you. And listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel after working out. We’re all different, and what works for one woman may not work for another. The best way for you to feel good about exercising is to be doing what’s right for you.
My vacation is coming to an end this week, and next week I’ll be back to reality! I’ll be checking in with you from my own home.
Big hugs to you!